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Labanc on His Struggles: ‘I still have a lot of confidence’



Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

The 2023-24 season has been as tough on Kevin Labanc as it has been on the San Jose Sharks.

Labanc, who averaged 0.52 Points Per Game from 2017 to 2023, has just two goals and seven points in 32 games this season.

And he has seen the ice very sparingly in those contests, averaging a career-low 11:46 a night.

”You do everything you can with what you’re dealt,” Labanc told San Jose Hockey Now in Toronto last week. “Whether it’s five minutes or 10 minutes, you do the best you can, chip it in, chip it out, do the best you can and keep working hard every day and be as positive as you can be.”

Labanc has also been a healthy scratch on occasion. But he has tried to not let that affect his work ethic. And he’s tried to not play scared.

“I’m doing everything I can,” Labanc said. “Just working hard, skating fast, and doing what I can to bring the body and make good plays. Maybe I need to hold onto the puck a little bit more.

“Obviously, I haven’t been scoring, so that’s tough. When you’re not scoring, you have to do other things to help the team and I’ve been doing that. I don’t think the team is scoring as much 5-on-5 as we’d like, as well, so there just isn’t much offense all around the locker room.

“I think when the team is rolling and the team is doing well, everyone is getting rewarded, and when the team is not [doing so] well, no one is really performing.

It has been a pretty similar story for a lot of players on the struggling Sharks.

“I think that’s what we’re doing right now. We just scared to make mistakes.”

San Jose is the only team in the league averaging fewer than two goals per game while also allowing the most goals per game.

Struggles like this would shake any individual, any team’s confidence.

“I still have a lot of confidence,” Labanc responded. “For me, however many minutes you play, you try to do what you can with the puck. Just work hard, throw the body, and do everything you can to try and get this team [going].”

As Labanc enters the home stretch of the final year of his contract, he is a Trade Deadline candidate.

He’s one of many teammates on expiring contracts, but he’s trying not to focus on that.

“I haven’t really kept up to date with it,” Labanc said. “You know, if trades happen, they happen, and it’s part of the business as a player. You just kind of control what you can control in what you do on the ice.”

The winger, 28, is in the last season of his four-year deal, carrying a $4.725 million AAV. That pricetag, along with his diminished production, might make him a hard-sell unless another team really believes in his offensive capabilities. Failing that, it feels likely that Labanc, selected in the sixth round of the 2014 Draft by the San Jose Sharks, will leave the only NHL team that he’s ever known as a UFA this summer.

But as tumultuous as things have been in San Jose for Labanc recently, from healthy scratches to being a constant subject of trade rumors to an ultimately inaccurate report that he had been placed on waivers, he has not closed the door on a return just yet.

There have been highlights in San Jose too, from a 56-point campaign in 2018-19 to four points on the same power play against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game Seven of the 2019 playoffs to even last season’s 23-points-in-29-games stretch when he was playing with Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier. And?

”It’s been my home,” Labanc said of the city where he’s settled down with wife Kelly and newborn Eric. “It’s a tough place to leave.

”I’ve been here for eight years, so you just build a community around yourself. Family, friends. I think that would always be a nice option to have.

“I don’t know where things will take me. But it’s been a lot of fun being in San Jose.”

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